SAM_0297I discovered a little magazine about London when I still lived there, so, oh, about 10 years ago now, I think. It was called “Smoke: A London Peculiar” and it had all sorts of marvellous photos, stories and essays about life at the edges of London, the things no one notices, the experience of actually living there. I know I bought some copies at Foyles; I am sure I bought one or two at the Books Etc. in Covent Garden, just a stone’s throw away from our flat. I read, absorbed and kept.

Fast forward a good few years. I’m busily working away with my first and original rock writer transcription client, Jude Rogers, and we get chatting here and there between the jobs, as you do, and I suddenly realise that she is all to do with Smoke, and they’re still publishing (or were at that time – it’s now a rather good website instead of a print magazine) and what’s more, they’re doing a book.

Cue much excitement. No: cue much excitement AND a sudden impromptu trip to London where I met my friend Em and her daughters and went to the launch stall for The Book at Greenwich Market. So that’s see my bestie – tick – visit an old haunt of my New Cross days – tick – and meet one of my clients (doesn’t happen very often) – tick. Oh, and buy a book. And all the back copies of the mag that I didn’t already have. I don’t buy books that often, do it … Anyway: how exciting! Here’s a rundown of the day.

But it was August, and August is All Virago / All August, as regular readers might just have noticed … so it wasn’t until September that I got to read and review this superb book. Sorry!

Jude Rogers and Matt Haynes (eds.) – “From the Slopes of Olympus to the Banks of the Lea”

(10 August 2013, Greenwich Market)

First impression: a lovely object. A good Book, with high production values; with a weight to it. I was holding it while I was banging on to them about e-book versions. Why oh why etc.

Second impression: oh, so it’s about the time of the Olympics. How did I not realise that? Not sure. I thought it was “just” a compilation of items from the mag. That would have been enough for me.  But we all know I love the Olympics and had my day out there … Now, a brief whirr of excitement was replaced by a tinge of panic, as 7/7 was mentioned early on (as of course it would be, coming the day after the announcement of London winning the 2012 Games) and a growing (but needless) worry that it was all going to be about the terrible negative things that went on and happened to ordinary Londoners: allotments lost, parks closed off, canals abandoned …

The book works its way chronologically from announcement to building works to opening ceremony to Games! to closing ceremony to Paralympics to afterwards. But it very cleverly reflects the attitudes I remember seeing and noticing at the time: negativity and apathy building up to a slightly unwilling, very British liking – almost sneaking love, especially around the opening ceremony. But even in these early days, there are flashes of laugh-out-loud humour, for example when Rishi Dastidar and friend unwittingly trespass on the building site.

Then come genuine, sobbing gobbets of tears reading the experience of the person in the opening ceremony and the emails between a UK worker and their US counterpart about cultural misunderstandings. Tears switched to howls of laughter, especially at Matt Hayne’s ‘Ian and Will have a cup of tea’ which gently mocks psychogeography, as you do.  There are some wonderful overheard conversations and mediated essays by Jude Rogers, and an experience of viewing the games on screens while at the games, which is fascinating. There are some marvellous photographs that encapsulate the very best in urban photography, and some brilliant cartoons by Alex Farebrother-Naylor.

I loved this book. As a big (but not uncritical) and lifelong Olympic Games lover, this sits happily with my DVD retrospectives – indeed I think I will shelve it with them – filling in the liminal London spaces around my Midlands TV viewing / one day in London experience of the event. And, no, I won’t be lending it out. But I will be buying lots of copies and pressing them onto people!

Although I bought my own copy and haven’t been asked to post a link, here’s more about the book and how you can get hold of a copy.

Oh, alright then, here’s me meeting Jude again. I’ve got my Sarf London tshirt on and everything (I don’t get many chances to wear it these days!)